Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Curse of Bodie

7th August

I first visited Yosemite in November 2006, and whilst I planned to leave the park east via the Tioga Pass, it was closed to traffic for the winter just the night before I was due to leave.

It was for this reason that I was excited to be finally travelling the Tioga Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into Yosemite.  The entrance was just 12 miles from our accommodation in Lee Vining which overlooked Mono lake. 

The Tioga Pass wound through the mountains and into the park which we immediately noticed was far busier than any of the parks we had visited. The roads seemed slightly narrower and this was exacerbated by the forest edge being directly beside the road.  This meant that clearings or larger open spaces often appeared very quickly with little time to make a decision on whether to stop or not.   The pace here was very different, not helped by a fast 45mph speed limit, and the obvious dangers of near visibility and speed was horribly illustrated to us when moments later, we passed two rangers bending over a Black Bear which had just been hit and killed by a car.    We were suddenly very aware of our own presence in these beautiful and wild places and found ourselves questioning what impact we were actually making.   The rangers place a “Speed Kills Bears” sign where bears have been killed and we saw at least half a dozen others during our visit.  Apparently around 15 are killed every year.   I understand the need to keep traffic moving through the park, but with the much larger Yellowstone having a speed limit of 35mph and only 10% fewer visitors, I feel there is argument to cut the current 45mph speed limit.

Despite this sad start, we enjoyed the rest of our day in the park.  From several miles along the valley we saw climbers on Half Dome, just tiny dots in the distance. We also hiked to Vernal Falls, a steep and rocky trail up to a waterfall.  Again tragically, we saw signs for three missing people whom had last been seen “going over” the falls.  This was no theme park and danger seemingly hid around every corner.  Despite this, we stayed safe and Jo enjoyed looking for bodies along the river banks.

8th August
We started today visiting Mono lake, a million year old body of water within a volcanic landscape.  The lake has dropped several metres in the last 70 years since water was diverted to meet the growing water demands of Los Angeles.  This drop has revealed giant tufa towers originally formed underwater and they emerge quite eerily from the motionless lake.

It was a reasonably short drive to our next destination, the ghost town of Bodie.  The town grew up from a small mining camp in 1859 to a large settlement of between 5-7,000 inhabitants.  Other booms in nearby towns drew people away and the town began to decline, first being labelled a ‘ghost town’ in 1915.
After driving down a small side road which eventually became unpaved, we arrived at Bodie.  The town boasts nearly 150 existing buildings which are described as being kept in a state of ‘arrested decay’.

Looking through the windows, we saw evidence of previous occupants in the shape of old shoes, clothes, bottles, and peeling wallpaper.  The town remained significantly occupied until the 1940s.

As we wandered around Jo spotted a small piece of pottery on the ground which she picked up.  We debated taking it home for a souvenir  but knew it was wrong, so decided to put it back on the ground where we found it   Later we  visited the small museum and visitors centre and I came across a large, a very large folder of letters written by people who had taken artefacts from Bodie and were returning them with unrelenting tales of misfortune.  These ranged from twisted ankles to the sudden death of close relatives.  Jo and I looked at eachother and imagined we'd just had a very lucky escape.

10 minutes later we couldn’t decide whether we were lucky or unlucky as after three hours walking around Bodie we returned to our car to find both offside doors wide open.  On the back seat was Jo’s handbag where she left it with her purse almost comically poking out of the top.  My wallet was on an open shelf on the dashboard.  All our other possessions were dotted around include two full suitcases in the boot.  Nothing was missing but we wondered if this was just a warning.  

A little shaken we headed out and back along the Tioga Pass to Yosemite.  We had a picnic at Tuolumne Meadows, and headed up to Glacier Point for an incredible view across the valley as the sun began to set. 

The road up was slow and winding, so we left before sunset to beat the rush.   On the way back as it slowly began to get dark, Jo had a strong feeling about us seeing a bear. 

Less than one minute later, I spotted something in a clearing as we drove past.  I turned the car around as soon as I could to return to the clearing, and to our delight, there was a Black bear, alive and well and in clear view.   We jumped out of the car and were immediately set upon by mosquitoes but it didn’t matter because here was a real life wild Black bear.  It didn’t stay around long but again this was a fantastic end to the day and we headed out the western entrance and our next motel in El Portal.  Our accommodation was a double room with spa, which we assumed was the spa attached to the hotel.  Oddly, it turned out to be a giant whirlpool hot tub in the middle of our bedroom.  

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